CPR and Sports: Protecting Athletes During High-Intensity Activities

Sports play a vital role in the combined physical and mental development of athletes. While the positive impact of sports on those practicing is undeniable, some risks are associated with repetitive high exertion during strenuous physical activity.

Some conditions can strike anyone, regardless of age, sex, or physical shape, so the safety of athletes during training and competition is a priority for coaches and support staff.

One of the most common reasons to perform CPR on an athlete is sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). As crucial as training those in charge of athletic programs is, so is promoting awareness of the essential shared role of CPR and Sports in protecting athletes.

In this article, we’ll explore the relationship between CPR and sports in terms of how we can better approach the subject in order to offer athletes the highest possible safety and well-being.

Why CPR Training is Essential in Any Sport

Most professional sports leagues and teams have team doctors who are certified and equipped with the most advanced resuscitation skills possible. Moreover, most competitive sports events, from team sports through martial arts competitions to solo sports, usually feature a team of paramedics who are also prepared to deliver high-quality first aid.

However, when we compare the time athletes spend in competitive events and training, it turns out that these professional medical services are mostly unavailable outside of the highest levels of professional leagues. For athletes, training 6-8 hours a day is similar to the hours most of us spend at work, while competition happens once a week at most.

Common Life-Threatening Situations in Sports

During sports, athletes push their bodies to the limit daily, increasing the likelihood of injuries and accidents. Depending on the type of sport, different risks are prevalent among athletes. For the most part, the serious dangers involve concussions, cardiac arrests, and/or choking incidents.

Concussions are common even in non-contact sports, often as a result of unwanted collisions or falls. Repeated trauma to the head can lead to severe brain injuries if left without treatment. Choking hazards revolve around the accidental swallowing of athletic accessories or other foreign objects or as a direct result of overstraining during practice or competition.

Cardiac arrests remain the most important life-threatening concern among athletes. Even though it’s not something seen often, it has the biggest potential for a fatal outcome, especially when exacerbated by undiagnosed existing heart conditions. Sudden trauma to the chest, known as commotio cordis, is another common reason for SCA in athletes.

Reaction Time in Sudden Cardiac Arrest Emergencies

A sudden cardiac arrest is a condition during which the heart stops due to disruptions in the electrical system that give it a working rhythm. Since the role of the heart is to pump oxygen-rich blood to every organ and cell in the body, it’s easy to conclude why any disruption in its work can lead to dire consequences and even death.

That makes the reaction time between an occurrence of SCA and the administration of CPR crucial, particularly in cases involving athletes. Since SCAs strike during training or competition, when the body has an increased requirement for oxygen, reacting quickly to a cardiac arrest becomes even more critical.

Therefore, coaches, staff, parents, and bystanders mustn’t just be equipped with the skills to deliver CPR but also be aware of how important it is to react immediately without any hesitation.

The Role of Coaches and Athletic Trainers

Coaches and athletic trainers are constantly present during an athlete’s involvement in sports and know the physical abilities of athletes better than anyone. This places them in a pivotal role in responding to sudden cardiac arrest emergencies in athletes. While prevention is key, which ties in with regular health check-ups and the coaches’ familiarity with them for every athlete, management of an SCA takes precedence given the risk associated with one.

Confidence, preparedness, and the ability to act swiftly completely change the outcome of a catastrophic cardiac event in favor of survival and complete recovery. This requires coaches and athletic trainers to be fully prepared and trained in all applicable forms of CPR, including the use of AEDs (Automated External Defibrillators).

CPR and Sports: Protecting Athletes by Tackling Emergency Preparedness

Similarly to devising game plans for the competitive superiority of individual athletes or teams, a plan has to exist covering the reaction protocols in case an athlete suffers an SCA. Developing such a plan features a few fundamental steps:

    • CPR & First Aid Training Kits. To facilitate the training of coaches and parents, organizations like the American Heart Organization and the American Red Cross have created special training kits that teach CPR, AED usage, and emergency response techniques. These kits contain everything a coach needs to educate and train the staff and perhaps even athletes in CPR.

    • Cardiac Emergency Response Plan. A well-defined Cardiac Emergency Response Plan is crucial to ensure those in charge are ready to handle cardiac emergencies. This plan defines the necessary equipment, specific assignments to individuals, and coordination with emergency medical services to streamline the reaction protocols during SCA.

    • Hands-Only CPR. Also known as chest compressions, hands-only CPR is a simplified version of CPR reduced to just one technique. It’s easy to perform and allows for those administering CPR to take turns, thus avoiding fatigue.

    • Access to Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs). An AED is the best tool to have on hand in cases of sudden cardiac arrest. They deliver an electric shock to the heart, resetting the electrical system and kick-starting the heart. The faster you use an AED, preferably along with CPR, the greater the chances of survival.

    • Youth Heart Screenings. Heart screenings are becoming increasingly popular, particularly among young athletes. There’s still a need to identify and standardize the best practices for heart screenings, but they are still the number one SCA prevention tool for athletes.

CPR Certification for Sports Professionals

The best way to get coaches and staff ready to deliver CPR in high-stress situations is to have them do the same thing they teach athletes – practice to become proficient. CPR certification via courses that prepare coaches for scenarios often seen in sports is the best way to achieve this.

Obtaining CPR certification is the first crucial step for sports professionals in charge of the well-being of athletes. Regular refresher courses, re-training, or even leveling up their CPR knowledge and practical skillset is vital in maintaining high readiness levels. Most job descriptions in this field require CPR certification as part of the hiring process.


Being able to react to an athlete suffering from a sudden cardiac arrest requires a multi-faceted approach that includes CPR training, awareness, planning, and program implementation. Access to additional equipment like AEDs further improves a victim’s chance of surviving a cardiac arrest.

Sudden cardiac arrest occurs just as often among athletes as it does among the general public, so combining CPR and sports does play a role in protecting athletes. Prioritizing sports safety and emergency preparedness can save many young lives and introduce a safe environment to athletes within a team.

If you’re a sports professional or otherwise involved in the sports industry, don’t wait any longer. Take the first step toward CPR certification in Newport News today!